PACKERS FOOTBALL FRIDAY: Defensive Line Summer Battle

Admittedly it’s arguable that this belongs higher on the list than number 5.  67% of last year’s starters on the defensive line are no longer on the team.  Two open starting spots in one position group could possibly push this higher on the list.  The reason that I don’t view it as highly is largely because of how often the Packers play their nickel defense (well over 50%) of the time.  In almost every variation of the Packers nickel defense there are only 2 defensive linemen on the field.  The main reason that this remains so low on the list is that the best defensive linemen in the nickel package, Mike Daniels, is still on the team and the player that projects to join him, Datone Jones is poised to break out after an injury plagued rookie season.

Who starts in the base defense and is introduced on national television is another matter.  I think it’s a foregone conclusion that BJ Raji will be the team’s starting nose tackle.  This is a good thing as Raji’s most productive season (2010) was from the nose tackle position.  The two players that would have been flanking him, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly are gone and unless Raji himself gets hurt I don’t anticipate either player returning.  For the purposes of this column I’m going to name Datone Jones the starter at the strong side defensive end position, he of a 6’4″ 295 pound frame.  I believe that the weak side end position in the base defense is up for grabs.

The contenders: 

Mike Daniels– Daniels is by far the Packers most effective interior pass rusher.  His technique and motor are unquestionable but standing at just 6’0″ he does not have the length that is almost required to play the 5 technique.  All of this might just not matter because despite his size, Daniels graded out as the Packers most effective run defender in 2013 by a wide margin.  We already know that Daniels can play, and if he can be effective against the run there’s no reason that he can’t be a part of the base defense.

Jerel Worthy- I expect big things from Worthy this season.  The 51st selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, Worthy was a very highly touted player coming out of Michigan State.  As I’ve discussed previously it takes a season before defensive linemen are really ready to make an impact, unfortunately Worthy was robbed of that second season when he suffed a major knee injury in week 17 of his rookie year.  This is a make or break year for Worthy and I still very much believe in his talent.  At 6’2″ 304 pounds he looks the part.

Khyri Thornton- Thornton is the dark horse in this competition.  At 6’3″ 310 Thornton has the best body for the 5 technique position.  As I’ve stated it’s not usually a great idea to rely on a rookie defensive lineman, at least not to make an impact but Thornton might be different.  There’s a theory that Thornton wasn’t as effective as he could have been because of the lack of talent around him at Southern Miss.  He was double teamed on nearly every defensive play.  The reason that I think Thornton could be different is his age.  He’s 24 years old and more physically developed that most rookie defensive linemen.  I don’t think he wins a starting job but if he starts figuring out some of the nuances of NFL line play he could become part of the rotation.

Prediction: As I’ve stated, I think this might be much ado about nothing.  I honestly believe that in the nickel defense we’ll see a heavy rotation of Daniels, Raji, Jones and Worthy.  For as little as the Packers run base it will be a time to get Raji, Boyd and Thornton (the team’s premier run defenders) on the field.  I also believe you will see a little bit of Julius Peppers, Mike Neal and even Nick Perry with their hand in the ground.  In the actual base defense (which I don’t believe gets played much) the 3 starters will be Raji, Jones, and Daniels.

 

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Ross Uglem is a writer at PackersTalk.com. You can follow Ross on twitter at RossUglem

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  • Probably more of a practice squad candidate this year but Mike Pennel is intriguing as well. You can’t teach size and he has a massive frame to take on double teams and possibly enough straight ahead bull rush to push back the center of the pocket. Like Lyerla, had issues in college which bumped out of a Pac 12 school. Looking forward to seeing what he can bring when they get to the 1 on 1 line drills.

  • Bear

    I pick a sleeper every year and Pennel is mine….Strong, moves well, and normal weight for him is in the 360 range, that makes him hard to move. Hopefully he develops.

  • Morgan Mundane

    I clearly remember analyst reports (pre draft) on Worthy: “tends to be lazy and takes a lot of plays off. goes missing in entire games and shows up for the big games but is not an impact player. 3rd or 4th round at best”
    He has been on the Packers two years and has gone missing. Yes injuries but what about his pre injury play. Which one did he excel at? How many tackles, forced fumbles, sacks did he have pre injury.
    I have three guys as the three buskateers: Perry, Worthy and D Jones. Until they step up to the plate and live up to the high draft picks they were, I see at least one of them not being around this year and two not being around next year.
    You don’t use number one picks as fill ins. Perry and Jones are two slow and have no quick first steps. They are not quick to react and make plays. They are always late to the dance on plays.

    • Ross Uglem

      My expectations are next to nothing for first year defensive linemen as they should be. It’s certainly possible that none of them are good players but I highly doubt it. It’s a good thing people with more patience than us fans make decisions.

      • Nick S.

        We as fans tend to look at how our first round draft choices pan out. I feel as though we have high and sometimes unrealistic expectations as to how these players turn out.All of the teams make first round draft choices and some choices that are not first round are actually better than the early round players, I for one hope that hat